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A bigoted docker from East London, Alf Garnett, is always getting his
family into trouble with his ramblings about race, religion and
This long running and extremely successful TV sitcom series created by writer Johnny Speight was also very controversial. Alf's racist and bigoted views often ensured that there was many complaints from angry viewers. Even though a lot of people find the show objectionable, it is still a milestone in British TV history because it changed the face of television in the way it said things and how it said them. The show rarely ever strayed beyond the tiny set of Alf's living room in Wapping (the walls used to wobble whenever Alf banged his fist against them in anger) and it was very weakly plotted but it ran for ten years and Alf Garnett was superbly portrayed by Warren Mitchell and Dandy Nichols was fine as his long suffering wife, Else, whom Alf referred too as the "silly moo". Anthony Booth (Tony Blair's father in law) played his son-in-law, Mike, a Labour supporter whom Alf called various names including "Shirley Temple" among other things because of his long hair. Una Stubbs played the daughter, Rita, who detested her father's bigoted ways, but at the same time retained an affection for him. Alf was a Tory and often conflicted with his son-in-law over the two different parties and they both supported different football teams, Alf was for West Ham and Mike for Liverpool. Everything that his family stood for, Alf was nearly always against.
Dandy Nichols left before the last series and the storyline suggested that she had gone to live with her sister in Australia because she could no longer cope with her husband. Meanwhile, Patricia Hayes and Alfie Bass were brought in as his new neighbours, Bert and Min, Bert was Alf's drinking buddie and a fellow West Ham supporter, while Min was always poking her nose into Alf's business. The series ended in 1975, but a spin-off series entitled "Till Death" surfaced in 1981 with Alf and Else retiring to Eastbourne with Mike and Rita trying to keep him out of trouble. In 1985, another spin-off series entitled, "In Sickness And In Health" emerged with Alf and Elsie as OAP's, Mike and Rita have both left home, so it was up to Alf to care for his wheelchair bound wife and do battle with social security. This series ran until 1992, but within a year Nichols had died after years of ill health and Carmel McSharry took over as his new lodger, Mrs Hollingberry, whom Alf only respected for her cooking. After the series ended there have been occasional TV specials such as "In Thoughts Of Chairman Alf" and "An Evening With Alf Garnett". Johnny Speight died in 1998.
In 1969, British Lion released a big screen spin-off of the series. It was occasionally funny and there were highlights such as Alf during the 1964 election and at the 1966 World Cup final. However, the script was sometimes unrepresentative of the show and it seemed comparatively tame compared to the original. The original cast was retained and it had a better crew behind the camera than one would normally expect of TV sitcom spin-offs. In 1972, a sequel entitled THE ALF GARNETT SAGA came out, but it was even more crude and out of character with only Mitchell and Nichols retained from the original cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In these politically correct times, it is highly unlikely that we will
ever see repeat screenings of Johnny Speight's 'Till Death Us Do Part'
in the near future, a fact I find sad. What the 'PC Brigade' seemed to
neglect to notice about the show ( as was the case with 'Love Thy
Neighbour' and 'Curry & Chips' ) was that the intention was to ridicule
the racist opinions of the character, however many foolishly saw it as
promoting them. True, Alf Garnett is a bigot but if those who blast the
show would take the time to watch an episode they will see that it is
indeed Alf who ends up with the egg on his face. If anyone was stupid
enough to laugh with the racist rather than at him then that is hardly
the show's fault, is it? West Ham supporting, Tory voting, heavy
drinking, pipe-smoking Alf Garnett lives in the East End of London with
his long-suffering wife Else, his sexy daughter Rita and her
good-for-nothing Socialist husband Mike. Alf and Mike's political
disagreements also became a focal part of the comedy as much as Alf's
farcical racist views.
20 million viewers tuned in each week over a period of ten years totalling up seven series and two movie spin-offs - 'Till Death Us Do Part' and 'The Alf Garnett Saga' as well as two television sequels - the unsuccessful 'Till Death...' and the hugely popular 'In Sickness & In Health'. That should give you an idea of how big the show was at the time.
Warren Mitchell is excellent as Alf and Dandy Nicholls as Else proved the perfect foil often getting big laughs by either speaking at the wrong time or even just sitting saying nothing. Una Stubbs and Tony Booth ( father of Cherie Blair ) also were impressive, often putting Alf in his place and matching him insult for insult.
Several of the biggest comedy stars of that era made appearances from time to time including Rita Webb, Arthur Mullard, John Junkin, Eric Sykes and Pat Coombs. Joan Sims was hilarious as the toothless, gin supping gran as was Spike Milligan, who appeared here as Paki Paddy, the same character he played in 'Curry & Chips' which was also written by Johnny Speight. Patrica Hayes also appeared here as Alf and Else's neighbour Min.
23 of the 54 episodes are sadly no longer known to be in existence. Many of the original black and white episodes ( including the pilot ) have been scrapped. All of the colour editions exist complete however. Good fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tille Death ran for seven series in the sixties and seventies and 20
million viewers tuned in each week to see Alf Garnett, a racist and
opinionated cockney, set the world to rights. Basically Garnett was a
self styled working class Tory, monarchist and nationalist who hated
immigration and the permissive society and frequently was at
loggerheads with his far Left Liverpudlian son in law and daughter,
while his wife, nicknamed the silly moo, sat knitting and ignoring the
political turmoil in Garnett's living room.
Whilw Till Death, with its frequent racist ranting from Garnett, is unlikely to ever be repeated in this country, it basically sent up Garnett for what he was, a bigoted misanthrope who always came off worse in any argument. Also his arguments were often so ludicrous, like sinking Ireland to stop the IRA, they were hilarious. Warren Mitchell ironically in real life was the complete opposite of Garnett, a left-wing Jew, and the whole sitcom was a send up of racist attitudes that were still common 40 years ago.
Watching a few episodes recently, Till Death is a brilliant reflection of Britain in the early seventies with frequent references to striking miners, the permissive society and pop music, all things Garnett has a strong opinion on and is usually countered by equally strong and amusing retorts from his son in law. That such an old and dated looking show is still hilarious today is a tribute to Warren Mitchell, Tony Booth and scriptwriter Johnny Speight.
This show was great to love and hate at the same time. Alf Garnett was the secret bigot in all of us. It spawned the American version "All in the family" with Alf Garnett becoming Archie Bunker.
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